I am honoured to be speaking with you as the Interim Leader of the Liberal Party.

This extraordinary convention of the Party has been called to consider two proposals – one to schedule a “biennial convention” to consider constitutional and political matters in January 2012, the second to delay the election of a new leader until no later than —– 2013, at a precise date to be jointly determined by the Interim Leader, the caucus, and the party’s national board.

I am personally supportive of these two decisions.

They say that victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan.  My own sense is that we need to keep assessing what happened, what went right, what went wrong, lessons to be learned, without getting into the “blame game”.  And then we need to take those lessons and move on, with good humour and good grace, to the days ahead.  We do not have the luxury of licking our wounds for too long.  There’s too much work to do, and Mr Harper needs an effective opposition.  The 60 percent of Canadians who rejected the Harper recipe need the Liberal Party to be fully focused on the future.

Michael Ignatieff is a friend of mine and deserves our thanks for his strong devotion to the cause, as does Szuszana and his team.  There is never shame in fighting and losing.

The Liberal Party is also a movement, a powerful sense deep in the fabric of Canadian life that we value diversity, freedom, a government that respects us and doesn’t take us for granted, a powerful commitment to a prosperity that is at once socially just and sustainable.  We want our country to be at its best in the world, leading the way with our commitment to the same values abroad as we hold so dear at home.

we are fighting for prosperity for all Canadians, social justice for all Canadians, and a sustainable society and economy for all Canadians

– the hallmark of our policies is facts and evidence.  We go where the facts and evidence takes us – on jobs, on corruption, on crime, on every issue.

We are facing a Conservative government that will over-read its mandate and an NDP opposition that will over-read its success.  While the extent of our election defeat is there for all of us to see and analyse, there is no time for us to wring our hands in despair.  We have to get to the task at hand.

If the caucus, the Party, and the thousands of volunteers throughout the country can be brought together in the common interest, we can succeed.  If we can keep our eyes focused on the tasks ahead, we can succeed.  If we remember how deeply Liberal values are appreciated across Canada, we can succeed.

Success will require change, it will require a willingness to stop some bad habits we’ve fallen into, and a deep commitment to humility and learning the “lessons of defeat”.

It can be done.  And I can’t do it alone.  We’re all builders and re-builders.  In my discussions with Liberals from all walks of life and parts of the country my sense is we’re up to the challenge.

Many commentators have noted that Stephen Harper’s objective is to “destroy the Liberal Party”.  I’m sure that’s what he would like to do.  But like many of his objectives, it won’t happen.

It won’t happen because the Liberal Party has survived setbacks before and it will again, and because the values and approach of the Liberal Party matter to too many Canadians.

The way back, however, demands action now, not later.  The phasing out of public support for all political parties does not mean that our changes can be “phased in”. We need to do business differently, and the change needs to happen now.

At the parliamentary level, the good news is we are a talented, effective caucus, and we shall be a vigorous opposition to Mr Harper, an opposition that is not about pandering but about the real alternatives to bad, ideological policies.

We are living with a much reduced budget, but we have resources – we need to use what we have in a creative and efficient way.

Similarly, in the party we are raising money more effectively than the past and have to do even more in the future. Four years ago this quarter we had 4500 donations, compared to the Conservatives at 45,000.  Last year, we’re at 38000 with the Conservatives at 100,000.  The Victory Fund alone raises over a million dollars a year for the ridings and just under that for the federal party.

But we need to go further – we need to focus on the three essential tasks of the national party,

-support for ridings and members

– a source of good ideas and good policy and

– an effective fighting machine for “the permanent campaign” that has become a hallmark of the Harperites, including the most important campaign, elections.

We shall simplify and streamline our structures, ensure resources for the three core jobs for the party I’ve mentioned, and at the same time build up our resources for the battles and wars that have become the “new normal” of Canadian politics.

And we shall do it transparently, sharing information with Liberals and Canadians as we do so.

There is no mystery to a successful restructuring:  focus on the essential mission:

-don’t give in to special pleading

-raise more money, and spend less.

-and do so all the while providing positive motivation on what we can and must do together.  It can and will be done.

This all starts with you today.  We need some time to get through these essential jobs, and I hope you will give me the support to do them.  We do have some time, realizing that the next election is 1,583 days away, in October of 2015.
That does not mean we can put off difficult decisions, but it does mean we have to go about our task in a systematic way, in a way that will clearly establish a strong foundation for the Party to move forward.  I wish the convention well, and look forward to working with you all in the days ahead.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.